A heart for service: Bailey receives assistance, joins Community Development Council board

Catherine Nolte
Fort Smith Times Record
Samantha Bailey of Charleston took part in the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council's Transition Out of Poverty Services program. Now she is one of council's board members.

When Samantha Bailey sought help to pay for a utility bill, she discovered an opportunity to change her life.

Bailey, a Charleston resident, first came to the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council for assistance with an electric bill in 2019. 

The Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council, located in Fort Smith, provides services for individuals with low incomes. Programs include help with paying utility bills, a community dental clinic, and distributions with the River Valley Regional Food Bank.

While meeting with a case worker, Bailey heard about the start of a new program — Transition Out of Poverty Services, or TOPS.

The program provides money management workshops, savings matching, job skills training and resume writing for individuals with low incomes. Participants also meet weekly with a case manager to discuss their goals. 

"I told her if that was true, I would be gung-ho to start it. As soon as possible I would love to," Bailey said.

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Robin Moses, HR and community services block grant reporting manager, described the mission of TOPS as helping people find "jobs and education because it's expensive."

"Just to help people be self-sustainable is awesome," Moses said.

Through TOPS, Bailey was admitted to the pharmacy technician program at Petra Allied Health a week later. At the time, she was eight months pregnant.

"It was very fast, but the process of the TOPS program was very simple, you just have to keep time management," Bailey said.

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A heart for helping others

Bailey entered the pharmacy technician program in hopes of following in her aunt's footsteps, whose service as a nurse inspired her to help others. 

"I wanted to do something that helped people. I just wasn't sure what, and there's a lot of controversy in 'Big Phrama,'" Bailey said. She went on to describe the controversies around the cost of prescriptions which encouraged her to learn more about the field.

After graduating from Petra and having her child 10 days later, Bailey's caseworker at the time, Mary Isham, helped her enter into the job market. 

"I got two job offers on the first day that I interviewed. It was very humbling, like my hard work was worth it," Bailey said. 

She accepted a job as a pharmacy technician at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith and was working when the coronavirus pandemic started.

"You had to make sure if you went into the COVID floors that you disinfected well and disinfected the medicines ... It was just a lot more overwhelming when COVID was at its highest," Bailey said. 

With the daily pressure and risk that she faced, Bailey decided to step back and become a stay-at-home mom with her two kids, ages 2 and 4. 

A new opportunity to help others appeared after Bailey attended a board meeting at the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council to share her experiences in the TOPS program. 

When they invited her to join the board in July 2020, it came as a complete surprise, Bailey said. 

Marc Baker, executive director of the council, said Bailey added an important perspective to the board as someone who has received services from the council.

"Her life experiences ... help us to better plan the services we offer and how we deliver them," Baker said. 

"It's been awesome to listen and pick up things from people from a different walk of life, or at a different stage of life, as well as be a part of big changes in our community and be able to make improvements within our towns," Bailey said. 

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'A thousand percent on your side'

Bailey expressed gratefulness for knowledge and relationships she gained through the TOPS program.

"Not only in pharmacy do you help your community and you're helping supply them with their needs, but also with being a board member, that's a big part of what we do as well," Bailey said. 

The Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council staff have become like family to Bailey.

"They have been absolutely amazing and are a thousand percent on your side to try to get you ... where you want to be in your life," Bailey said.

For anyone interested in applying to the Transition Out of Poverty Services, call the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council at 479-785-2303 and ask to speak with Dana Crawford, family services manager. 

Catherine Nolte is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She can be reached at cnolte@swtimes.com.